Senator Wants SecAF Nominee to Issue New Guidance on Trump Property Stays

Barbara M. Barrett attends her Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing to become Secretary of the Air Force, on Capitol Hill September 12, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Barbara M. Barrett attends her Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing to become Secretary of the Air Force, on Capitol Hill September 12, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

In the wake of an investigation into past stays at a Trump resort in Scotland, one lawmaker is pushing the U.S. Air Force to complete a thorough record check on how often service members have stayed at Trump-owned properties. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, is also asking the nominee to be the service's top civilian leader to consider a policy change barring airmen from future stays at hotels tied to the president.

During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Thursday to hear testimony from Barbara Barrett, President Donald Trump's pick to be the 25th secretary of the Air Force, Blumenthal said he's looking for assurances that the president will not profit from troops' layover stays while transiting around the world.

"I'll evaluate what policy should be issued," Barrett replied during that line of questioning.

If confirmed, Barrett agreed that she would provide a complete account of airmen spending money at Trump-branded properties as part of the Air Force's ongoing review.

Related: 'Misperception' Concerns over Air Force Crew's Trump Resort Stay May Prompt New Policies

The Air Force on Sunday launched an investigation on where and how often its aircrew members stay on layovers and whether the associated guidance should be updated. The investigation was prompted by a Politico report that said the House Committee on Oversight and Reform is investigating stopovers at Glasgow’s Prestwick Airport and Trump's Turnberry resort in Scotland as part of a larger probe into military stays at Trump organization properties.

"This issue is far from new or novel," Blumenthal said, referring to lawmakers' ongoing investigations to seek how or if Trump has violated the Emoluments Clause during his presidency. The clause is intended to keep the president from receiving any benefit from government beyond a set salary.

"Do you agree that no taxpayer funds should be going to the president or his business as a result of Defense Department stays at Trump-owned properties?" the senator asked.

Blumenthal added that Defense Secretary Mark Esper promised that he would provide lawmakers relevant data on any purchases made at Trump properties by DoD civilian and uniformed personnel.

"We should have generic rules and regulations that look to the best value and the best acquisition, and those rules should be enforced and enforced equally," Barrett replied. "They should not be specific to any particular owner."

Blumenthal responded that this wasn't just any owner, but the president of the United States.

Barrett demurred on whether she would issue a sweeping policy, but said any guidance should keep the appearance of propriety in mind.

The service has been pressed with questions in recent days about why personnel would opt to stay at a property owned by the Trump organization.

In March, a C-17 Globemaster III crew, consisting of seven active-duty and National Guard crew members from Alaska, stayed at Turnberry while en route to Kuwait; they only landed at Prestwick airport on the return trip to the U.S.

The stop in Scotland prompted the House Committee on Oversight and Reform to investigate whether U.S. military stays have boosted Turnberry's revenue.

The Air Force has not issued any recent directives prohibiting business with establishments connected to Trump, and it remains unclear whether the DoD will consider a military-wide policy.

A senior defense official told this week that an overhaul to the policy could also come from Congress or the White House general counsel.

Blumenthal isn't the only lawmaker concerned.

"The House sent a clear message by adopting our amendment in July that we will not allow taxpayer funds, including the defense budget, to be used to enrich the president," Rep. Don Beyer, a Democrat from Virginia, said in a statement Monday.

"As alarming details emerge about U.S. Air Force crews staying at the president's luxury golf resort in Scotland, it has become even more important that Congress include this language in the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act," Beyer added.

The measure aims to block the Defense Department from spending money at any of the president's 50-plus properties around the world.

"The president has already shown a willingness to violate the Constitution's Emoluments Clause, and Congress has a duty to use every tool we can to stop him," Beyer said Monday.

The NDAA amendment is co-sponsored by Reps. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, Steve Cohen of Tennessee, and Ted Lieu of California, all Democrats.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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